Best Christmas Vacations
Whether you're seeking a classic Christmas vacation filled with holiday traditions or a festive yuletide getaway without snow, you'll find it in these vacation destinations. To determine which cities offer the best settings for a Christmas getaway, U.S. News considered factors like culture, seasonality and entertainment options, as well as reader votes. Have a favorite Christmastime locale? Vote below to help determine next year's ranking.
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During December, the capital of the Czech Republic turns into a winter wonderland you've got to see to believe. Twinkling lights blanket the city's medieval architecture, and its Christmas markets are some of the best in the world. Plus, many of Prague's top attractions – including Old Town Square and the Charles Bridge – are free, so you won't have to spend a fortune to sightsee.
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This Austrian city teems with Christmas markets. For travelers, the most unforgettable market is the main one held in Rathausplatz Square, which features the neo-Gothic city hall as its backdrop. While perusing the market for unique gifts, look for snow globes – they were invented in Vienna in 1900. Also remember to buy a hot mug of Weihnachtspunsch (Christmas punch) to keep you warm as you check out the various vendors' wares.
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Taos, NM#3 in Best Christmas Vacations
For a twist on the traditional Christmas, consider spending the holidays in this small town 70 miles northeast of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Snow-covered adobe buildings dot the historic downtown, and handmade gifts are available at the Taos Folk pop-up store. The roster of unique events includes bonfires and traditional Aztec dancing on Bent Street; caroling and a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Taos Plaza; and a Christmas Eve parade of skiers making their way down the area's slopes with nothing but flares guiding them.
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While Icelanders do not believe in Santa Claus (the 13 Yule Lads are the ones who dole out gifts to well-behaved children), their country's capital is awash with holiday spirit every December. Adventurous travelers can feast on a seasonal meal of fermented skate, a fish dish with a particularly pungent aroma that permeates the air on Christmas Eve. Other must-dos include ice skating at festive Ingólfstorg Square and looking for the mesmerizing northern lights.
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Charleston, South Carolina, appeals to holiday vacationers who want to experience classic Christmas festivities without bundling up. Daytime temperatures hover in the 50s and 60s in December, giving visitors the chance to comfortably enjoy the outdoor Holiday Festival of Lights and Christmas-themed walking tours through the historic district. After working up an appetite, dine at one of Charleston's award-winning restaurants or climb aboard the Carolina Queen for a holiday dinner cruise.
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Can't hop across the pond for a European holiday? This Canadian city is the next best thing. Come December, the quaint stone buildings and narrow, winding streets of Old Québec, outfitted with decorations and lights, inspire glee. Take your kids to meet Santa in the Petit Champlain District, try seasonal German delicacies like gingerbread and mulled wine at the German Christmas Market or go ice skating at Place D'Youville.
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Every year, the heart of Scotland's capital transforms for six weeks into a Christmastime festival. Alongside markets, lights and giant Advent calendars, travelers will find amusement park-style rides like roller coasters and carousels that the whole family can enjoy. For those who enjoy ice skating, head to St. Andrew Square to strap on a pair of skates and zip around its impressive oval ice rink.
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Festive singalong shows at Park City, Utah's iconic Egyptian Theatre are guaranteed to get even the most Grinch-like travelers into the holiday spirit. One of the city's most memorable events is Santa's ride down the Town Lift into Town Lift Plaza in the Main Historic District. Park City also hosts the 16-day Snowfest, which features everything from live music to s'mores to ice sculptures.
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Cobblestone streets and incredible architecture define San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, while seasonal touches like Christmas trees and lights give the city a festive tint. You'll be amazed by the sense of tradition that radiates from monuments like the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel during Christmas Eve Mass. And in the days leading up to Christmas, you can watch neighborhood posadas (candlelit processions featuring reenactments of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem).
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Rome's charming piazzas, streets and buildings are even more stunning when decorated for the holidays. Admire the impressive Christmas trees in Piazza Venezia, next to the Colosseum and in Vatican City's St. Peter's Square before checking out the world's oldest permanent nativity scene at St. Mary Major Basilica. Then, shop for holiday treats, decorations and gifts at Piazza Navona's sprawling Christmas market. No trip would be complete without attending the Pope's Christmas message and blessing outside of St. Peter's Basilica – it's a very popular event, though, so you'll want to apply for free tickets two to six months in advance.
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If your idea of the perfect Christmas getaway consists of sublime weather, luxurious accommodations and gorgeous scenery, look no further than the Maldives. When you're not swimming with tropical fish or sunbathing on white sand beaches, unwind with a spa treatment in an overwater bungalow. Several Maldivian resorts host Santa meet and greets, Christmas food markets and more in December to get you in the holiday spirit. Plus, many offer all-inclusive holiday packages to help you get the best value out of your getaway.
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Although December marks the start of Oahu's peak tourist season, its abundant Christmas activities, warm weather and terrific whale watching opportunities make it a great time to visit. Base yourself in Honolulu to enjoy easy access to Chinatown's fun holiday window displays. And don't miss the monthlong Honolulu City Lights event at Honolulu Hale, which features everything from a tree-lighting ceremony to a parade. Just be sure to book your hotel room months in advance to ensure availability.
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Head to Rio this Christmas to soak up some sun, explore tropical rainforests and see iconic sights. The Marvelous City's location in the Southern Hemisphere means you'll enjoy temps in the 80s in December, the perfect weather for lounging on its world-renowned stretches of sand. Should you crave a traditional taste of Christmas, attend the Festival de Presépios – where you'll find the world's largest life-size nativity scene – or venture to Rodrigo Freitas Lagoon to check out the world's largest floating Christmas tree.
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Few destinations offer the charm and atmosphere of Boston at Christmas. You'll feel as if you've stepped into Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" as you stroll the snowy cobblestone streets of Beacon Hill and the North End. Plus, the city offers all kinds of quintessential winter events and activities, including various renditions of "The Nutcracker" and ice skating in the country's oldest park. Once the sun sets, head to Faneuil Hall Marketplace to watch the surrounding trees twinkle during the Blink! light show.
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Active travelers and R&R-seekers alike will love celebrating Christmas in Aspen. This Colorado mountain town is a haven for skiers thanks to its 76 runs and highly regarded après-ski scene. What's more, Aspen is home to multiple luxury resorts with cozy fireplaces and luxe spas for relaxing. For a dose of yuletide fun, make your way to downtown Aspen for the 12 Days of Aspen, a 12-day event featuring free ice skating, caroling, cookie decorating and more.
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Chicago's frigid temps and biting winds in the winter help it earn its Windy City moniker. But if you have thick skin (and wear plenty of layers of clothing), you'll enjoy taking advantage of all this city has to offer during the holidays. Christmas must-dos range from ice skating in Millennium Park to seeing the Lincoln Park Zoo's impressive ZooLights displays to exploring downtown's Christkindlmarket. When you need to warm up, pop inside the Museum of Science and Industry to see its 50-plus illuminated Christmas trees.
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For a Christmas vacation steeped in tradition, spend your holiday in Salzburg, Austria. Every December, locals don horned masks, pelts and bells as they chase spectators throughout the Old Town much like the folk creature Krampus is said to have done to scare naughty children. Plus, the city offers an annual Christmas market that sells decorations, toys and specialty treats, such as mulled wine and sausages. If you enjoy listening to Christmas carols, save time for a daytrip to nearby Oberndorf, where "Silent Night, Holy Night" was first performed.